Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

November 2017

Cutting-edge exposure science presented at ISES

Part of studying environmental health is accurately measuring people’s exposure to pollutants and other factors in the environment. This is called exposure science, and the latest developments in this research were shared Oct. 15-19 at the 2017  International Society of Exposure Science (ISES) meeting in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Lantz, Balshaw and Hoppin

David Balshaw, Ph.D., center, chief of the NIEHS Exposure, Response, and Technology Branch, co-chaired the conference with Jennifer Lantz, Ph.D., left, from Bayer CropScience; and NIEHS grantee Jane Hoppin, Ph.D., from North Carolina State University. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Mary Wolff Wolff was recognized by ISES for outstanding contribution to exposure assessment. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Guidry)

In her plenary address, longtime NIEHS grantee Mary Wolff, Ph.D., from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, encouraged her fellow scientists to improve measurement of exposure to chemicals and other relevant factors. She called this consequential exposure science.

“We should aim to measure something that improves people’s lives,” Wolff said.

She stressed that physiologic factors such as age, sex, and body mass index (BMI) should be considered when calculating pollutant exposures and potential health effects. For example, BMI affects exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These pollutants, which are stored in body fat, are reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens by the National Toxicology Program.

Wolff said that shortly after exposure to PCBs, lean people have higher exposure levels than people with a higher BMI. As time from exposure elapses, people with higher BMIs will have higher exposure levels.

Wristbands, vacuums, hand wipes, and backpacks

Heather Stapleton Stapleton said that one of the challenges of exposure science is comparing measurements of pollutants in the environment, to measurements of how much exposure people receive, to their actual internal dose. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Much of the conference was focused on new tools for measuring exposure to environmental pollutants. In California’s Salinas Valley, adolescent Latina girls are using wristbands to measure pesticide levels in their homes, as part of the Chamacos Of Salinas Evaluating Chemicals in Homes and Agriculture (COSECHA) study. The wristbands were developed by NIEHS grantee Kim Anderson, Ph.D., from Oregon State University.

By comparing pesticides absorbed by the wristbands with home characteristics, the COSECHA study found that home pesticide levels are related to having crops less than 100 meters from the home, windows open, and carpet in the home.

Heather Stapleton, Ph.D., from Duke University, uses vacuums and hand wipes to measure toddlers’ exposure to house dust that contains chemicals used to soften plastic, called phthalates. Levels in hand wipes had the strongest correlation to phthalate measurement in the toddlers’ urine.

Her team also reported a strong association between vinyl flooring in homes and toddler phthalate exposures. Phthalates are suspected to disrupt normal hormone function in the body, causing a range of potential health effects.

NIEHS-funded researchers at Johns Hopkins University measured how air pollution affected asthmatic children in Baltimore by giving the children backpacks to wear. As the children moved about the city, equipment in the backpacks measured air levels of tiny particles produced by fossil fuel combustion.

Reducing exposure — smart design, community input

John Durant Durant said that future directions include measuring and designing ways to reduce exposure to air pollution from Logan Airport in Boston. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Guidry)

New scientific knowledge informs ways to reduce exposures. John Durant, Ph.D., from Tufts University, worked with communities, architects, and planners to reduce air pollution exposure at parks near freeways in Boston. The collaborators designed solutions, including a baseball backstop that blocks airflow from the freeway. They also worked with housing developers to make changes such as moving apartment building air intakes away from the roadway.

Robert Gunier, Ph.D., from the University of California at Berkeley, said the COSECHA study found that using a doormat is a simple step that can reduce home pesticide exposures. They now recommend the simple strategy to Salinas Valley families.

Data collected by first responders after floods in Texas is helping to identify safe practices during emergency response, according to Cornelius “Kees” Elferink, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS-funded Environmental Health Sciences Core Centers at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston. These efforts are part of the NIEHS-led Disaster Research Response (DR2) program.

“Starting as a basic scientist, my outlook really grew through my involvement in this research,” said Elferink. “I’m such a strong proponent of community-based participatory research now.”

(Virginia Guidry, Ph.D., is a technical writer and public information specialist in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)


Elferink Elferink studies the coastal microbiome as a sentinel for environmental disturbances. He said the influx of human waste from flooding temporarily alters microbial communities. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Liam O’Fallon Liam O’Fallon of the NIEHS Population Health Branch moderated several sessions about community-engaged research and led a preconference workshop about collecting air quality data. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Guidry)
Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch, discussed how school lunches may contribute to children’s phthalate exposures. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Guidry)
Aubrey Miller, M.D. Aubrey Miller, M.D., directs the NIEHS DR2 program, which facilitates exposure research after disasters, such as the flooding in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Collman, Gwen, Zota NIEHS Director of Extramural Research Gwen Collman, Ph.D., center, gave the opening talk about the future of exposure science. With her are NIEHS grantee Ami Zota, Sc.D., left, from George Washington University; and Nicole Deziel, Ph.D., from Yale. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Panelists discussing Panelists discussed best practices for communicating exposure science results to community partners. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Patrick Breysse, Ph.D. Patrick Breysse, Ph.D., Director of the National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry received the ISES Weslowski Award for sustained and outstanding contributions to the knowledge and practice of human exposure assessment. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Guidry)
Bevin Blake Bevin Blake discusses National Toxicology Program research about exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances in the Ohio-based Fernald Community Cohort. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Ivan Rusyn, M.D., Ph.D. Ivan Rusyn, M.D., Ph.D., left, director of the new NIEHS-funded Superfund Research Program center at Texas A&M University, visited the NIEHS booth to discuss conducting research during Hurricane Harvey. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Audrey Gaskins Audrey Gaskins, Sc.D., right, from Harvard University, tests an air monitoring vest used by Columbia University researchers to study cyclists’ exposure to air pollution. James Fabisiak, Ph.D., from the University of Pittsburgh, and others also joined the air quality monitoring course. (Photo courtesy of Liam O’Fallon)
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